October 22, 2016 at 4:23 pm
For three days, the invaders pushed inland. In their wake, the village streets were slick with blood, teeming with vermin, and rife with chaos.
Dodging watchful eyes, a slender footman ducked into a street tent and bowed before the figure hunched in the stifling darkness. “My good sir-”
Beneath the unkempt hair, the twisted mouth parted. “Now there’s a name I’ve not been called.”
“Tis the one my lady gave when she bid me bring you this,” said the footman, opening his battered hand to reveal an ebony feather with a scarlet ribbon tied about the shaft.
The figure snatched the feather and retreated.
The footman peered into the gloom. “She sends a message, sir. Something wicked this way comes.”
“Then I shall be wickeder.”
“But she said you were good.”
“Depends on the cost. Nothing good comes without a price. Remember that, boy.”
“What do you mean?”
“Duty. Love. Power. Sometimes we pay with silver. Sometimes with sweat. But there is always a price for achieving what we desire.”
“I desired to save my lady from capture but the enemy overcame me and now she is shackled and I am bloodied.”
“The trick, boy, is to know when to be good, when to be wicked, and when to be wicked good.”
“Then she is doomed, sir, for I am neither wicked nor good.”
“But you are strong, for you survived the beating,” said the man, grasping the footman’s wrist.
The boy flinched.
“And wise, for you carried out your lady’s instructions,” he said, using his nails to pierce the soft underside of the boy’s forearm.
The boy closed his eyes against the pain.
“And perceptive,” he said, dipping the shaft of the feather into each of the punctures in the boy’s skin, “for here you stand, believing something powerful exists behind this charlatan guise.”
“She said -”
“She’s mistaken, of course. I am as wicked as doubt is unforgiving and love is unfathomable.”
“But I gave my word long ago,” he said, removing the red ribbon from the feather and using it to tie back his hair, “and I may be many unpleasant things, boy, but I am not a man who breaks his word.
What kind of man are you?”
The footman trembled but his gaze remained steady. “I do not know.”
“Then we shall ask the cards.” The man yanked a piece of awning off the tent, tore it into three rectangles, and laid them on a warped bench. He spit on each piece, tapped them with the bloody shaft, and nodded to the boy.
The footman crouched and turned over the first card. It bore the red outline of a ring. The second, a heart. The third, a bird.
“The ring symbolizes fidelity. The heart, integrity. The bird, power.”
“What do they mean?”
“A weighty future if you’re willing to pay the cost.”
“I’ll pay whatever is necessary to aid my lady.”
For the first time, the man smiled. “As did I.”
“When? I don’t understand.”
“Duty. Love. Power. There’s always a price. The trick, boy, is in knowing how to negotiate the payment.”
“Sir, my lady is in peril -”
“My future was forfeit the moment I lay eyes on her. I knew I’d do whatever was required should she ever have need of me. And from that day, I’ve been preparing.”
The footman tossed the cards into the air. “You are wasting precious time with these riddles.”
“What I am doing,” said the man, waving his hand and turning the cards into feathers, “is making myself known to you. To pay for the vengeance I’m about to unleash on your lady’s behalf, I’ve lived on the streets fifteen years, cold and hungry, without employing my power. How will you pay for yours?”
The feathers settled on the footman’s shoulders and when he spoke, it was with a new voice. “I haven’t the time to be cautious or patient. I’ll pay here and now with my blood and bones. The outlook is grim.”
“Then we shall be grimmer.”
“The enemy are many.”
“Then we shall be more,” said the man, throwing back his head and uttering a caw.
The tent filled with feathers, the feathers became birds, and the tent, the man, and the footman were absorbed into the flock of malevolent crows.
As they descended over the heads of the enemy, a crow with a red ribbon tied to one talon turned to the slender crow beside him and screeched, “Are you ready to be wicked, boy?”
“Wicked good,” the young crow shrieked, landing on a thick skull and plucking out the eyes.
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October 22, 2016 at 4:46 pm
It was an honour to be selected and deep down The Chosen knew this, but losing all sense of being had been unexpected. No sight, no smell, not even touch could alleviate the boredom that had set it. All The Chosen could do was wait until the door became active so The Rest could be led to salvation. The Chosen would never know salvation but it was a sacrifice that was willingly made for the survival of The Rest.
Duncan warmed his hands at the fire, unsure of his next move. Rebecca was a gentle soul and he knew if he pushed things too far she would run and he would never win her heart. Hearing her footsteps he turned with what he hoped was a seductive smile. “Come sit by the fire, keep me company.”
Rebecca laughed, “Why Duncan, are you lonely?” Sitting next to him she snuggled close and looked to the sky. “The stars are so clear tonight.”
Duncan casually placed his arm across her shoulder pulling her closer. “Yes they are, the perfect night for falling in love.” He felt her tense so didn’t move to kiss her. This was a slow game and one he planed on winning, he had all the time in the world. Saying nothing he lifted his beer and took a long drink gazing at the sky with seemingly little interest in his companion. “I wish I knew some constellations, maybe you’d be impressed.” He heard a small giggle and felt her shoulders slowly relax as she lent into him once more.
The Chosen sensed the door was near, not yet open but soon. The time of salvation was drawing near.
Rebecca was struggling with her emotions. On the one hand she was sure she was in love with Duncan but on the other was it real. Was he the one to take her virginity and finally make her a woman. On the outside he was prefect, attentive, kind and gentle. Whenever she felt threatened by his advances it was as if he could see into her soul and he backed off, giving her time and acceptance. Comfortably leaning against him she felt another of her defences crumble and she knew that soon she may succumb to his gentle advances.
The Chosen felt alive. The door was open and it was time to lead The Rest though.
Duncan felt Rebecca slip from his grasp. Panicking he sat and cradle,d her in his arms. Rebecca, Rebecca honey, what’s wrong?” She looked into his eyes and he saw fear.
“No Duncan, there is something at work in my soul. Something bad.”
The Chosen held the door open watching as The Rest passed on to salvation.
Duncan watched as a silver mist poured from Rebecca’s eyes, helpless to do anything but hold her tight. He didn’t see the way the mist formed into shadowy figures that lopped off into the woods behind him.
The Rest were now free to make this new world their own.
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October 23, 2016 at 1:45 am
“Last chance, Reva.” I smoothed my skirts as I descended from the carriage. “This is your last chance to smarten up and be a woman. Disobey Father and his daft plans to marry you off to some unwitting aristocrat.”
My driver flicked his whip with a light whistle. The pair of aging geldings didn’t quite leap into motion, but the carriage left all the same. I stared at my left hand, halfway raised, poised to act on the very sensible pit of fear roiling in my belly.
“Well, so much for that.” Exhaling a nervous breath, I climbed the stone stairs. “You can do this. It’s just a few hours. The carriage will be back around by midnight.”
Footmen bracketed the polished wooden doors. One held out his hand.
“Reva Kilburn.” I handed over the parchment, the broken wax seal a dull red gleam in the torchlight.
“Welcome, Miss Kilburn.”
I nodded politely. The doors were pushed wide, ushering me into the humid depths of the old house. Following my nose, I tracked the tang of human sweat mixed with incenses and savories to the massive ballroom dominating the east wing of the house.
I hovered at the entrance. No one waited to announce me, thankfully. Perhaps I’d get through this evening with my dignity intact. A thorough examination of the attendees doused my hopes. Father’s matchmaking schemes increasingly pushed the limits of good taste. Tonight might ruin me completely.
I smoothed my invitation open, my hands trembling.
You are cordially invited to the annual All Hallow’s Eve ball—
I read the paper three times. There was no mention of required attire, yet—
The crowds pulled me in like the tide, sweeping me along in the midst of black seas of infinity. As far as I could see, midnight dark robes and masks surrounded me. I stood out like a diamond on black velvet, the contrast of my pale gown an irresistible invitation to look. To judge. To touch.
Eddies and swirls of dancing, carousing humanity spun me around and about, until I felt certain I would go under and never again see the light.
“There you are.”
The richly masculine voice teased my ear. I whirled, practically into the arms of the masked man standing at my shoulder. Pale light flickered in the eyes of the jack-o-lantern head and garish rictus of a mouth. I staggered back, my mind trying to reconcile where a man’s true face might lie behind the monstrous mask.
“Steady, love.” He caught my elbow in a light grip. His evening kit, though well kept, showed a curious age. Unlike the others, his mask was far more elaborate, and his shirt was red as blood. “Better?”
“Yes, thank you.” Perhaps the suit had been tucked away in a wardrobe or trunk. “Are you masquerading as your grandfather?”
“On the contrary.” His voice conveyed a resigned amusement. “This is the one night I don’t have to pretend.”
I frowned, but the bold questions perched on the tip of my tongue slipped away unspoken as he drew his ungloved fingers along my cheek.
“You are more beautiful than I’d imagined.”
“Why would you be imagining me?”
“Not you, specifically,” he said. “More someone with your—gifts.”
The hairs on my arms rose. I stepped back from his touch, wrapping my arms across my chest to hide my shiver.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Said every witch, ever.”
He closed the distance between us as the music changed. I fell into step with the dance, rather than fight. I’d seen the price of fighting at the end of a hangman’s noose. Mother’s body. Then Aunt Rosemary’s. Then, and then, and then…
The smile that twisted my lips held no joy. Only a hollow acceptance.
Father had believed we were safe. Even I had begun to hope—
“I did not invite you here to reveal you, Reva.”
“For what, then?” An edge sharpened my voice. “If you are behind this party, you are clearly a gentleman of means. What do you want from me?”
“I’m tired, darling.” He raised his lantern head, its roughly carved grimace lighting my face. Where did that eerie light come from? “I’ve wandered this world too long and I’m ready to rest. Help me.”
“Show me your face,” I said. “I want to know who is asking.”
He huffed, the sound balancing between laughter and sigh.
“My friends call me Jack.” He took my hand. “And I have but one face.”
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